If you’ve been following my Facebook Page and/or my Instagram, you might have noticed a lot of a) shopping for on boots/practical footwear on sale and b) tons of packing. I’ve also done some Pinning of useful info that we might need when we get to post. Yes we are getting cross-posted to another country! I’ve announced it on Instagram, but I realised I never really announced it officially on my blog! So here it is!
It’s official! We’re moving to BERLIN! The city of cool! Woohoo!
So the practical footwear is a must because we’re going from being chauffer driven to pounding the pavement, riding a bike (we bought a bike here for TD to practice on because he didn’t know how to ride a bike) and taking trains. Today was day 1 of packing and we’re 27 boxes and counting! My bet is about 100 boxes! So what’s it like moving as the wife of a Filipino Diplomat?
Different embassies from different countries have different ways of moving. Just as an example American diplomats get a weight limit for their stuff, and usually when they get to their post, they can choose from different housing options provided by the embassy. They are provided with fully furnished housing, so on the downside, they dont get to choose their furniture, but on the upside they don’t need to spend for it. I imagine it is very hard to fit in all of one’s stuff in a weight limit. Some countries (like Laos and Cambodia if I am not mistaken), don’t have shipping and they are given rent to cover fully furnished homes/flats. Some people prefer this though because it’s a more hassle free form of living abroad. It’s easier, no packing needed. But when they find something they like and want to keep from their post, they personally have to pay for shipping home. Different Embassies, different arrangements and with any arrangement there is a positive and negative side.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TRAVELING FILIPINO-DIPLO STYLE?
Filipino diplomats on the other hand, get a 20-foot shipping container or the option to take half of the allowable shipping allowance to ship select items (if you have few items that don’t require a 20foot container this is advisable) yourself. Some people take the allowance and then just buy what they need when they get to their post.
We opted to go for the shipping allowance, because as you can see in my furniture posts, we decided to invest on teak furniture in Indonesia, where teak is still somewhat affordable and the quality is amazing. (Mind you not all teak are created the same and you can also get very bad teak which will open like the Grand Canyon, if you are not careful). Also I loved what my MIL said to me about her trying to make every post look familiar and the same, which is why she brought her furniture and stuff around the world. So we have a shipment for a 20foot container, however insurance is not covered by the DFA. When we get to the post, other expenses like fitting out a house/flat is all our own. We also find our own shipper by getting three quotations to be approved by the DFA.
You book your own ticket in coordination with your admin officer for the budget. Our tickets (mine and TD’s) are paid for,but we are also paying for DiploDog’s transfer and the ticket of our Filipina maid.
When you arrive at post, if you arrive exactly 7 days before the first day of the next month, you get 7 days hotel allowance. If you arrive 4 days before the first, you only get 4 days hotel allowance. It’s a bit random in my opinion. And how the heck does one choose a home that you will stay in for a few years, in only 7 days? it’s improbable. (We don’t like to move within the city because expenses for moving within post are not covered by DFA) So what ends up happening is we spend our LQA (Living Quarters Allowance or rent money) on our hotel. Renting per month or long term is so much cheaper than a hotel, so you can see the discrepancy right there.
I am not sure, but it’s entirely possible that the DFA LQA hasn’t been updated in about a decade. It is up to us to make it fit. There is no allowance for household utilities, household help, car or transport.
Side story: When we first arrived in Jakarta as a “newly” married couple. We lived in our home with only a coffee table to eat on for 6 months. We sat on the floor. Until our friend Imman, lent us an old table and some monoblock chairs. Yes we could have gotten a fully furnished apartment, but to be honest I’d rather have no furniture than ones that don’t please me aesthetically. And most of the fully furnished apartments we found (at that time) were not modern. They were decorated in traditional old fashion style (think ornate). But first we had to save up for a car. So for 1 year, that’s what we did. After our first year, was the only time we started buying furniture and decor. Piece by painful piece when we could save up money for good quality furniture. Each set of order took a few months to save for. I don’t have any regrets, and I know that our government isn’t that rich, But perhaps they can contemplate raising allowances once in a while (every few years at least?). This is what I tell myself when I see how much we are getting for a post.
Another thing is that there is almost no education allowance. Education allowance is only USD 1,000 per year per kid for a maximum number of kids (is it 3 kids max?). When you are a diplomat in a non-english speaking country, I don’t think it’s practical to send your kid to local school. It will also be smoother transition for children moving from country to country to go to international school. When I found out the rates for international school in Jakarta, I thought “this can definitely bankrupt us.” A mom told me for her kids kindergarten she pays USD 7,000. That’s not including uniform, supplies, expenses, etc. No wonder there are so many Filipino diplomats’ kids that are sent back to the Philippines for schooling. It’s sad that families have to be separated. But you just can’t afford it, unless you are already personally rich. I really hope that our government addresses this in the near future. I can live with a small living allowance, but education for my future children is important, and their safety is also a major concern – if you are a diplomat it is possible to become a target for kidnapping for political agenda.
Filipino Diplomats are not given any language training or budget for language lessons in non-English speaking countries. If you come from Manila, you get x hours of “language training” which consists of sitting in a room with a CASSETTE TAPE player and listening to it. #WTH right? Hindi lang man CD o DVD! And many Filipino Diplomats are so busy that they end up logging in and logging out and not really listening to the tapes. Besides if that’s what they give, it’s the same thing you get from downloadable DIY language lessons. I am not sure why they even bother. Baka sayang yung cassette at cassette tape player? You can’t even practice with a language partner to see if you are learning things right. It’s definitely not an effective way of learning a language. Basically walang budget.
Sidestory: The most stressful thing about moving to Jakarta for me. TD said I should wait because they were going to request for budget. Budget came 2 years later but they were too busy to take the lessons, so we finally took lessons THREE years after we landed in Jakarta. I basically joined the missions group (paying for my own lessons because I am not part of the mission) to get a cheaper rate. I should have just bit the bullet and spent the money, so I didn’t get so stressed the first 2 years of my life in Jakarta.
We only get maximum 60 days to get to post after accepting an assignment. I’ve been preparing for a while now, but I really wasn’t sure where we were going. And preparing for living in a temperate climate like Berlin is something, I have zero experience in.
UPDATE: Sorry just had to add more to the moving-conditions of Filipino Diplos below….
If the “Diplomatic Clause” is not honored in post it is your financial loss if you get assigned mid year. (In Jakarta they don’t honor it, even if it is in the contract.) The worse thing is that in Jakarta we pay rent annually and if we got reassigned before our year is up, the loss of that rent money is ours alone to bear. We had to renew our lease short term (with great increase every renewal) since 3rd quarter of last year coz we were expecting a move in December.
Now that our lease is finally ending on May 20, we are not given any hotel allowance for days between lease expiry (May 20) until our departure date (May 24). We are having to rely on the generosity of friends/colleages and we are so lucky that TD’s boss is nice enough to let us couch surf with our maid.
We have to process our own visa. TD had to get in touch with the Philippine Embassy (PE) in Germany, some German Embassy staff in Jakarta to ask for help. He requested for the wrong kind of visa initially and was rejected so he had to do a workaround, by going to the Netherlands Embassy to ask for help, on the 3rd day of our pack out.
There is no reasonable clothing allowance so to prepare for a post with 4 seasons, you get the money to buy a 2 reasonably priced coats. TD gets a really small clothing allowance for Jakarta, $150/year (the equivalent of a pair of good leather shoes), and when we move to Berlin he gets a whopping $400. This can possibly buy us one coat each per year.
How about entertaining, Diplo-style at post you say? TD get’s $150/month for entertainment allowance. That can be one dinner with a few other people. I didn’t want to even place this on this post because it’s really embarassing. When we entertain at home for several colleages, we spend so much more than that already.
Spouses are usually not allowed to work, depending on the bilateral agreement with the post. We get an allowance of $150 per month, to remunerate us for the loss of income. I don’t believe this is fair compensation, versus my money making potential as a Marketing Executive.
I am really sorry if it sounds like I am complaining. I usually try to highlight all the positives in our experiences, but I’ve committed to being real on my blog. I don’t want to perpetuate this unreal fantasty that DiploLife is all fabulous and perfect. Just like other expats and OFWs there are difficulties. Some people might say that my husband’s job is a service to the Filipino people and I should never complain. Yes it is, but it is also a job. People get jobs to be able to provide their family with food, shelter and education. Monetary income is a very practical concern, when one is forced to become a one income family because spouses are not allowed to work in the country they are being posted. This is not about trying to get more of our taxpayers money to live a fabulous life or to buy clothes. NOT AT ALL. It is about being properly equipped (i.e. language lessons to communicate), clothed (i.e. harsh winters) and sheltered for the posting that our organisation or company sends us to.
These are the reasons why I am stressed and scared. I am really happy to move to Berlin, and I feel really fortunate to be able to experience such a fabulous new city. However, like any other human being, there are still nights that I can’t sleep because of practical worries like these. I need to save, and save and save. I really try to spend my money wisely, quality over quantity. And I am willing to sacrifice to get good value for my money. Though the children’s education don’t apply now, but I should definitely be already saving up for it!
I am so sorry that I ended up griping. Now on to the cheerful side of things…
- Berlin is the city of cool!
- Green living – looking forward to clean air and getting thunder thighs from biking around the city. And I am looking forward to segregating trash and living greener!
- The party scene is supposedly insane
- Public transport is a breeze
- Traveling around Europe is something I never really expected to do ever, but we definitely want to maximise when we are there.
- Berlin is so much more dog-friendly than Jakarta, DiploDog will love it!
- To live in such a historical city would be amazing! To see places that you read about in history books in person, is a privilege.
- Museums!!! There are so many in Berlin and I read that they have 2 nights a year where more than 100 museums stay open till past midnights and there are shuttles that carry families with their kids from one museum to another. Museum hopping!
- The culture, art and music scene is so vibrant. They have all these festivals that celebrate it throughout the year!
- Berlin Christmas Market #OMG Berlin is the capital of German Christmas Markets. Sooooo excited!
That’s all I can think about off the top of my head! I am not even half-way through the Berlin City Guide. There is so much more to look forward to! This is going to be my first time ever to go to Europe. So I don’t really know what to expect!
I’ve gotten some really reassuring words from my friends that I need to repeat to myself…
- It’s okay to be scared of moving, it’s perfectly normal to be stressed. Moving is one of the most stressful things a person can go through in life (right up there with losing a loved one) so of course it’s only natural to be stressed. Especially when certain expenses are not covered by the organisation that is moving you.
- We count ourselves lucky and fortunate to be able to move, when some people quite their jobs and give up everything for a move like this. Moving as part of the Philippine embassy is a secure way to move. The embassy people already there will be very helpful to a fellow DFA person.
- We are smart practical people who will figure out a way. Mistakes will be made, but lessons will be learned.
- If things don’t work out, we can always go home.
- “Don’t be lonely about being so far away. Think of it as being peaceful.” (Thanks K!)
- “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing” -thanks for the tips currystrumpet
- ” you can’t let the cold stop you from going out and having fun” – currystrumpet
If anyone has any tips for me about moving to a cold climate country (especially money saving tips), I would love love love to hear from you!
I will still be doing posts on Jakarta because there is so much I still want to share. Please bear with me, as I will also be doing the Travel Diaries post and posts about Manila and the Philippines, which I’ve not been able to do. These will be about travels TD and I did in 2012 and beforehand. The little details might now be up to date, but I hope you enjoy the pictures of our travels, even if things may or may not have changed since the time we visited.
For Jakartans, feel free to unsubscribe to my posts, if you feel that the information you are getting is no longer relevant to you. I won’t take it against you, I promise! However, I would love it if you continue to go along with me on our European adventure for the next 2 years! Thanks for reading my blog and I always appreciate your comments, tips, and suggestions!