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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 and nothing more. 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. Despite the drawbacks, I wouldn’t choose anywhere else to live.

Driving in Olongapo

It’s easier to drive in Olongapo today than it was just a couple of years ago. I still wouldn’t call it easy and that’s simply because there aren’t enough traffic lights or traffic enforcers. I’ve been to many urban areas in the Philippines and there are few that are any better.

There used to be a problem with people parking on the streets in front of their homes, even though they had garages and driveways. Some ordinance or something went into effect and that’s no longer the case. There are still issues, of course, as there are in any places where vehicular traffic is involved.

The biggest problems with vehicular traffic involve public utility jeeps (“jeepneys”) and tricycles (“pedicabs”). There are too many of them and many of the drivers ignore basic safety rules. They may not get into accidents, but they definitely cause accidents.

A Traffic Ticket at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone

Between the time my wife, Josie, and I bought our first car in the Philippines and the time I received my only ticket (in 2007), I had only driven at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone one or two times. Josie had driven most of the time.

On this particular day, I was driving in an area I wasn’t familiar with. 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. I explained that I didn’t see a stop sign, and they pointed it out. It was hidden by a parked SUV. In the United States, I doubt I would have received a ticket and the person who parked in front of the stop sign definitely would have received one, 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, without success.

The ticket wasn’t a big deal because it was only a 200-peso fine (a little under $5.00 USD back then). The part that irritated me was that I wasn’t the only one to do what I did. I was, however, the only white guy to do it. I was singled out because I looked like a foreigner.

Shopping in Olongapo

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.

Several years ago, Josie 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. Josie came back to where I was and told me about the chairs.

A few minutes later, I walked to that store by myself and asked the woman the same question, but in English. She told me the chairs would cost 500 pesos each. After that, 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. I also shop at the malls. I prefer shopping at places where there are visible price tags, so I can’t be cheated.

A Lack of Conveniences

I could write about the lack of conveniences in the Philippines for hours but I won’t. More than anything, it’s lacking in the shopping conveniences many foreigners have become accustomed to. Of course, Americans who’ve lived in rural areas won’t be much 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 United States. To find what you need, you have to shop at multiple stores. Luckily for me, a new SM mall opened in Olongapo in 2012 along with a new Ayala mall (called Harbor Point) at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Yet another SM mall opened in Olongapo in 2019.

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 all those services have outages as well. Outside of downtown Olongapo, cell service isn’t as reliable as it should be, but it’s getting better.

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 white and black 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 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: Judgefloro [CC0] at Wikimedia Commons
Edited and updated. Originally published in August 2013.

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By RT Cunningham
December 14, 2019
Expats and Foreigners