RT Cunningham

Drawbacks for Foreigners Living in the Philippines

drawbacks There are many drawbacks for foreigners living in the Philippines. Some of the drawbacks may seem racially motivated even when they aren’t. They’re motivated by greed and perceived opportunities. Other drawbacks have nothing to do with anything specific and are more matters of perception than anything else.

The best way for me to explain the drawbacks I know about is to tell you about my experiences. My experiences haven’t changed the way I think about Filipinos or the Philippines because the drawbacks aren’t isolated to the Philippines – they exist in every developing country.

Drawbacks: A Traffic Ticket at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone

Between the time my wife and I bought our car and the time I received a ticket (in 2007), I had only driven at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone one or two times. My wife drove the rest of the time.

On this particular day, I was driving in an area where I wasn’t familiar with the roads. I approached a three-way intersection that didn’t look like a three-way intersection. I slowed down, almost to a stop, but I didn’t stop because I didn’t see a stop sign.

Two Subic police officers pulled me over immediately (they were standing nearby). I explained that I didn’t see a stop sign and they pointed it out. It was hidden by a parked SUV. In the US, I doubt I would have received a ticket, but these guys were intent on giving me one. One of my brothers-in-law, who was riding with me, even tried to talk them out of it.

The ticket wasn’t a big deal – it was only a 200-peso fine (a little under $5.00 USD). The part that irritated me was that I wasn’t the only one to do what I did. I was, however, the only Caucasian to do it. I was singled out because I didn’t look like I was from the Philippines and I didn’t like it.

Drawbacks: Shopping in the Philippines

This is something I knew about but I wanted to see if it was true. I was told many times not to go shopping in downtown Olongapo, that the merchants would raise their prices just because I’m an American.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were downtown, walking around for some reason I can’t remember. She walked past an open-front store where they were selling outdoor plastic chairs. I was some distance away. She stopped and asked the woman there how much each of a particular kind would cost. The woman told her they were 400 pesos each. My wife told me about the chairs.

A few minutes later, I walked to that store by myself and asked that woman the same question, but in English. She told me the chairs would cost 500 pesos each. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have bought any chairs there even if she decided to lower the price.

I do most of my grocery shopping at the Royal Duty Free Subic or the Pure Gold Duty Free Subic stores and only buy things in downtown Olongapo when they’re not available at those two stores. Yes, they sell furniture in both stores.

Drawbacks: The Lack of Conveniences in the Philippines

I could write about the lack of conveniences in the Philippines for hours but I’ll keep this short. More than anything, it’s lacking the shopping conveniences many foreigners have become accustomed to. Of course, Americans who’ve lived in rural areas won’t be affected by it.

There isn’t a Walmart or a Home Depot anywhere in the Philippines. The Home Depot store in the Philippines isn’t the same franchise as the one in the US. To find what you need, you have to shop at multiple stores. Luckily for me, a new SM mall was built in Olongapo and finished in 2012 along with a new Ayala mall (called Harbor Point) at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

Public utility services are terrible. Brownouts are common enough to be considered routine. There are outages for other services all the time - no utility is reliable, not even standard telephone service. Cable TV is reasonably priced while Internet services are overpriced and oversubscribed (except for DSL).

And those services have outages as well. Outside of downtown Olongapo, cell service is extremely unreliable.

Drawbacks: Discrimination

This isn’t something I have to deal with, but I have to mention it nonetheless. Filipinos have priority when it comes to jobs (as it should be) and for good reason. There aren’t enough jobs available. Foreigners can still get jobs as long as those jobs are for companies and employers outside the Philippines. Online employment is available although I haven’t attempted to find out much about it.

I haven’t noticed any bigotry unless you count bigotry against nationalities, not race or color. Some people don’t like Americans for all the wrong reasons. Then there’s the case of mistaken national identities. Basically, if you don’t look like an Asian and you don’t speak the local language, you’re treated like a foreigner.

Most Caucasian foreigners, regardless of where they’re from, are treated like Americans unless their nationality is known. This isn’t a bad thing most of the time because anti-American sentiment seems to be concentrated in the metro Manila area.

It isn’t your Country

If I sit here and think for a while, I could probably think of a few more drawbacks for foreigners in the Philippines. I really don’t want to focus on the negative aspects of living in the Philippines, unless I’m able to change them.

The thing to remember is that the Philippines isn’t your country unless you’re born there or you become a naturalized Filipino citizen. If you’re a foreigner, you can’t expect anything to be the same as it is in your home country.

Photo Attribution: By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


RT Cunningham
August 14, 2013
Expats and Foreigners