Ruby, currently living in Jacksonville, Florida, hails from the Philippines. She and her husband, Peter, run two blogs about life and travel in and around Florida. Check them out at A Journey We Love and Voyage Florida.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Manila, Philippines
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Jacksonville, FL, USA
Q: When did you move here?
A: October 2013
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No. My first expat experience was to London, UK in 2008.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I got offered a job with the company I worked for in a different location and country. They sorted out the visas for me, and it was a good opportunity to go. I had been working for that same company for more than five years, and they also sponsored my first and second expat experiences.
Living in Jacksonville
Q: What do you enjoy most about Jacksonville? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the Philippines?
A: The pay is higher in Jacksonville as compared to the Philippines. There are more opportunities available for side hustles, businesses, and other ways to earn more apart from the full-time job. The quality of life is way better in the sense that I don't spend too much time stuck in traffic commuting to work, and there is a better work-life balance as compared to what I was used to in my home country. Plus, the foreign exchange rates make it easier for me to save and travel.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: My mom and other immediate family members are still back home. That's the thing I miss most. Oh, and the fact that you can hire help without it costing too much money. I probably don't need to pay thousands of dollars on childcare yearly for my kid there as much as it costs here.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in the US? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Not really. The Philippines used to be a colony of the US, so we have pretty much the same stores and restaurants, and we speak fluent English back home. If there is one thing I was surprised at, it's the consumerism. A lot of people prefer to buy things new than to repair or use second-hand things.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to the Philippines? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in the USA?
A: Clothing and electronics are cheaper here in the US compared to back home. With a specific phone plan, you can upgrade your phone for very little money here in the US.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Jacksonville?
A: Jacksonville is a very spread-out city, so while there is public transportation available here, it is limited to certain schedules and routes. There is only one bus that passes by my neighborhood that can take me to the mall and to a library, and it only comes by once an hour or so.
One needs to drive if you move to Jacksonville, so that's a big culture shock to some people who move to my city from the Philippines who do not know how to drive.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Jacksonville? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare is pretty good in Jacksonville. I gave birth to my boy here, and since I had employer insurance, my copay and deductible when I gave birth was not that high, even though I had major surgery and had a bit of a complication after birth.
The hospital I went to is called Baptist Health. It's also where my primary care provider is affiliated with, as well as any other doctors that I have.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Jacksonville? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: The downtown area and some parts of the west and north side of town has a bit of crime and racism going on. Stay in the south area of the city and the east side of the river. The closer one goes to the beach though, the more expensive it is to live there.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?
A: Since I moved on a work-sponsored visa, they gave me an apartment for a month and a realtor to help me find an apartment to live in. I ended up with an apartment a few blocks from my temporary apartment since I loved the neighborhood and the complex was working with the company I worked for.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Southside, Riverside, San Marco, Avondale, Jax Beaches, and St Johns County like Nocatee and PVB.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Jacksonville?
A: There is a big Filipino community in Jacksonville, so I felt right at home. I did not experience any sort of discrimination in my host city.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: You can meet friends at work. Otherwise, you can sign up for Meetup groups.
Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I mix mainly with other expats. It's hard to find truly local folks who were born and raised in the Jacksonville area in my generation.
Working in Jacksonville
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: It's really hard to get a visa to the US without a sponsor. I did not do any of the visa process myself. My employer hired a lawyer and a few other third-party companies to get me a visa here in the US.
Q: What is the economic climate in the city like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job?
A: Find a sponsor. If you can't find a sponsor, then it's almost impossible to find a job here as a non-US passport holder. Alternatively, you can marry an American and you can find a job when you get your visa to the US.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: It's pretty much the same as back home, except that I don't deal with as much traffic here in the US as I do back home in Manila.
Family and children
Q: Would you recommend Jacksonville as a good place to bring up children? Any favourite family attractions and things to do in the city?
A: Yes. There are so many parks and public spaces available for him to play and run around. There is a private park owned by our community with playgrounds, a soccer field, a basketball court, and tennis courts within walking distance from our house.
Another family-friendly thing to do in the city is go to the beach. You can't go wrong with the beach. Then there's MOSH (Museum of Science and History), which has interactive attractions for the littles. You can also go to the library, with free activities and books to borrow for the kids.
Q: What are the schools like?
A: It's not so good in my general area, but we are planning to enroll my child in a good charter school if he can get in. We still have two years before he is eligible to go to grade school, so we are still researching.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Jacksonville?
A: Learn how to drive before moving to Jacksonville if you have never driven before. It is hard to get around if you don't know how to drive, and you can't rely on public transport or Ubers all the time. The Uber path will get expensive eventually, and you can't even travel that far.