One of the first things you should do upon arriving in Cebu is find yourself a good lawyer. Whether you are planning to go into business or not, a lawyer will come in handy when purchasing properties, dealing with immigration authorities, and you'll need someone you can rely on in an emergency.

As a foreigner, you will be subject to various restrictions. For example, in most industries foreigners are not allowed to own more than 40 percent of a business. In some, they are excluded entirely. The same goes for land; the maximum you can own is 40 percent; in the case of condos, you can own one outright only if other foreign owners amount to less than 40 percent (at least 60 percent of the entire building must be owned by Filipinos).

There are exceptions; you can apply to avail of a special program; as far as I know there is one for foreign investors - you need to show proof of at least USD $50,000 - and one for retirees. In both cases, a lot of paperwork is involved.

You'll probably also need a visa. The immigration authorities are fairly strict. Tourist visas have to be renewed every 21 days. If your status is that of an illegal immigrant, it can easily be used by your enemies - easily made in the Philippines - in case of a dispute, and you'll find yourself deported even if you have done nothing wrong. As a foreigner, your situation is delicate to begin with: if someone files a complaint against you, you may find yourself behind bars. In any case, it is advisable to get a permanent visa of some sort, and you should have a lawyer deal with the Bureau of Immigration rather than go there yourself. [This article carried by the SunStar Cebu in 2004 will explain why.]

Whatever you are planning to do, it is crucial that you get good legal advice, in the form of a close relationship with a good local attorney. Unfortunately, good attorneys are hard to come by. I went through four until I found the right one. The first was competent and friendly, but he charged me Western rates - and in Cebu, that meant he was robbing me blind. The second charged less but was so busy with his extracurricular activities - politics, I think - that he never made deadlines and even forged official documents when I complained about a delay. The third and fourth kept offering me a stake in illicit criminal activities.

The fifth turned out to be honest, efficient, and friendly to boot. We became close friends. Attorney Baquiano is a CPA who has his own office and welcomes new clients. But please don't approach him if you are planning illegal activities, such as smuggling. The attorney is a hero - he got into hot water with the authorities while opposing Martial Law prior to the People Power revolution of 1986 - and turned down a seat on the bench because he knew that the salary was too low to survive on without accepting bribes. The man is scrupulously honest; he is the only attorney I know who refuses to notarize a document without the signatories present (almost all lawyers in Cebu will notarize a document delivered by messenger).

ADDRESS Suite 101, Roseate Pensione, 32V Urgello St, Cebu City
CELLPHONE +63-918-580-8546
LANDLINE +63-32-418-7248
OFFICE HOURS 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

There are two other attorneys I know of who come highly recommended. Attorney Siu is also a CPA.

ADDRESS Suite 403, Krizia Bldg, Gorordo Ave, Lahug, Cebu City
CELLPHONE +63-918-580-8546
LANDLINE +63-32-412-2620
EMAIL tslaw2002 [at] yahoo [dot] com


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