Expat Stories – Martin Vonau
February 2021   EXPAT STORIES

Expat Stories – Martin Vonau

Martin Vonau is a Cigna Global customer. He was born in Ghana and grew up in Switzerland.
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Martin has lived and worked in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Singapore, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland.

He is now retired and living in the Philippines.

This is his expat story.

Can you tell us about your expat move?

Here is a breakdown of all my different expat moves:

Move 1- 1952 Ghana-Switzerland (parents relocated to Switzerland, I was only one years old)

Move 2- 1978 Switzerland-Saudi Arabia (to take up my first employment abroad)

Move 3- 1980 Saudi Arabia-Switzerland (to take up a postgraduate course)

Move 4- 1981 Switzerland-Brunei (to take up my 2nd employment abroad)

Move 5- 1981 Brunei-Singapore

Move 6- 1988 Singapore-Taiwan

Move 7- 1991 Taiwan-Singapore

Move 8- 1997 Singapore-Philippines

Move 9- 1999 Philippines-Switzerland

Move 10- 2016 Switzerland-Philippines (to go into retirement)

As I became an expat for the first time in 1978, and having enjoyed six different expat assignments, I have seen big changes taking place over time about the need to send expats abroad and particularly also as regards compensation packages paid to expats.

Just an example, my father, who was an expat in the 1940s in the then British colony of Ghana, was sent there by his Europe employer mainly to allow control of its subsidiary and to ensure production to European standards.

At that time, travel from Europe to Ghana was done by boat, taking weeks one way. Some companies in those years even counted years spent in the tropics double, which finally allowed the expat earlier retirement. A local in those years likely could not have done the same job.

However, circumstances and conditions in most destination countries have changed considerably over the years. Availability of well-educated local professionals, internet, the advance of air travel, etc. has meant that things are now much different.

For me, I left my home country Switzerland in 1978 as a bachelor and returned to it 21 years later with a family and quite some more money in my bank account!

I moved from Switzerland to the Philippines in 2016 to retire.

I’ve worked in the South East Asian area for over 20 years and I feel more at home here than I do back in Europe.

You’ve also lived in Singapore and Taiwan, how do you find it living in the Philippines, is it similar?

No, I think it is different and very special here in the Philippines. The climate is much more acceptable.  

I’m a big fan of golf and playing golf here is great! I can play here pretty much 12 months a year. Back in Switzerland, is was only about 7 months a year.

The Philippines feels like it is very similar culture wise to European countries. They have a bit of European mentality and it makes it easy for me to live here.

The language barrier isn’t too bad. I would say that most of the locals here speak English so it is very accommodating living here.

What have been some of your highlights of living in the Philippines?

The main highlight for me has really been playing golf. There are so many great golf courses here and they are all very affordable to play.

Winter in Switzerland is quite tough. Everything pretty much closes down. But here, the weather is nice and it is much better.

Have you had many challenges as an expat in the Philippines?

Not really, it was pretty straightforward for me. I worked here before I moved here so that helped.

I also found it very easy making friends here and settling down. The local people here are very accommodating.

What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat abroad?

For me, I made friends mostly through work, business associations, expatriate/sports clubs, functions organised by embassies and visiting places frequented by other expats.

What advice would you give to those who are considering making an expat move?

I think it really depends on which country you are moving to and where you are coming from. Here in Southeast Asia, most of the countries are used to seeing Western expats coming to stay.

I have also been an expat in Taiwan and I would say it was very different living there. So you have to ask yourself if you are the right type for it and independent enough.

Would you recommend an expat move?

By all means! I have a family now. My wife is from Asia, I have a daughter who was born in Singapore and my son in Taiwan. So we consider ourselves to be an international family.

Living abroad expands your knowledge, understanding, tolerance level, just so many things. It also broadens your horizons and helps you to become a better person.

It has given me a lot and I would recommend it to everybody!

Finally, how would you summarise your expat journey?

Awesome, very challenging and rewarding, by all means not to be missed, educational, eye opener, increased my general understanding and tolerance level tremendously.

Thank you Cigna for giving me this opportunity to share my very own experiences with you and others.

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