Why do so many things go wrong for expats in the Philippines?

It would easy to fill hundreds of pages of things that did and have gone wrong for a lot of expats but often they all come back to the expat themselves. One of the biggest problems is “trust” anyone who has been stung second time around if they survived have learned to treat everyone as if they will steal from you and it may sound a lot to not trust anyone but in reality its easy to be cautious than risk lose everything. What sort of thing am I talking about? it could be someone running a chicken restaurant with their girlfriend to later find out when he isn’t there the workers are selling their own chicken and the owners stock splitting direct profits with his girlfriend. Leaving the business to bankruptcy very quick. Or maybe the construction projects where someone will go and get materials and ask for a receipt which is 1/3rd or double the material costs they collected pocketing the difference (Stores will write what you want on a lot of receipts!). Or could be the expat who is working abroad part time to find out while he is away his wifes ex is living in his house riding his wife every night and only finds out by mistake when a neighbour mentioned he thought he had left because a new guy had moved in while he was away.

These are all trust issues and its being able to put systems into play that protect you at every opportunity. Running a store run a tight ship on all transactions even put a cheap POS system in that runs off a PC (google around for one!) if you stock take every week you will quickly find stocks going astray and if they are be ruthless. How about a fish business delivering fish to businesses? One of the biggest scams on that is your drivers selling their own fish alongside yours. Random monitoring is needed there is a reason why people at shop counters here are in threes and it isn’t for customer service its to make sure thefts don’t happen. In the fish business or food delivery like a military unit you need to seperate people off that purely do checks and don’t mix with the routine staff make it company policy if need be as they are employed to find your thieves. Trust is something that needs to be earned not given and if you give it freely at some point you will be bitten and it will definitly leave a bitter taste.

Excuses for not turning up is another problem many face in business and the excuses vary considerably everything from being sick to heavy rain. Either way you need to look at how you can implement a system that is going to make people at least let you know in advance at best less down time. Some businesses even fine employees for not turning up not sure of the legalities of that and everything is different depending on the business type. E.g. having 3 days off in a month may cost a monthly bonus loss for example might work better as we all get ill sometimes at the same time don’t be taken for a mug.

Stock supplies are a regular headache people have here and im not sure what the idea is of poor trading practices. E.g. stock unavailable or price hiking. In the U.K. if you did that you would quickly see a new supplier jump at the chance of forcing out their competition. Here its often difficult to source one supplier of some goods due to the way the whole country is setup.

Employees getting bitter is another major factor and although haven’t seen it myself I have heard of stories of locals threatening company owners with getting them deported. Not the fact they hadn’t shown up for work for a few days without notice or caught stealing thats irrelevant. So the important thing here is make sure everything is legal and above board as well as create a paper trail of failings by the employee. Same as the U.K. research local laws and how the policies need to be implemented cover your back.

That’s a lot of the business issues covered and I don’t want to end up with this being a rant. But most problems leak into relationships, family issues or generally people you meet along the way. The mentality and cultural differences between the West and the Philippines people is huge and often I find myself thinking this doesn’t make any sense what so ever. Things get done two or three times because nobody follows what you say or even tries. Often “yes” will mean “I will do it my own way”. To the point you start wondering “why the hell am I here?”

The frustrations every expat face are all pretty similar which is why when you meet up and discuss with others you will find your not going crazy the other expats are going through the same thing. For me my biggest issues are the majority of people are uninterested in learning or changing that I have met. I worked in construction for nearly 20 years so what the hell would I know about making things faster or better quality? Business wise my biggest fear is I may just quit and go back to the U.K. if people are unable to adapt and willing to change. I won’t waste the next 20 years trying to fix something that nobody can see is broken. Yet OFW’s I met we have had funny conversations because they have seen a lot of the methods outside of the country and can understand why things are done that way. But it all comes back to the same saying that many people will justify things with “but this is the Philippines".

Changing the subject onto relationships now there are many traits that if you have been here a while you notice with other peoples wives and girlfriends which you can quickly guess the outcome of the relationship. Not because I have some super marriage detecting powers but from seeing the mistakes others have made and the traits shine right through a lot of the women. A recent accurance for example was someone who was quick to dismiss something as beneath her yet the same thing is used daily by the majority of people in the Philippines and the same thing continued throughout the day with different things. Very obvious she forgets where she came from literally only a few months ago which makes me wonder what happens when her partner goes back to work abroad and the money isn’t so readily available. Maybe another one of those girls with the 4 Western Union chat boyfriends sending money while she waits.. or even worse once she gets to the U.S. looking for the divorce papers as soon as she can for her 50%. The other thing is you don’t have to be a detective a lot of the time because when women talk together they will often tell it to the other women what they get upto. The local boyfriend, another boyfriend arriving next week once they wave this one off there are literally hundreds of things that go on. I was discussing things with a friend of mine the other day and he had read about bizarre instances of things going on in Latin America. After hearing some of the stories I told him he started to realise the stories in Latin America are very likely to be true.

Now on a positive note if people listen to other expat’s (that do get into business etc) you are likely to reduce your risks. But be aware there are a lot of sharks amongst the expats aswell. Many are making a living here and a lot of it comes from green guys like you who have just arrived.. Im a little different as I have a habit of rebelling against the norm throughout my life which is why the apartment we rent out is cheaper than most at P7,000 inclusive of everything. Even most of our tenants food is collected from market every day because my mother inlaw is there most days herself. I rent out my jeepy cheap here because I know people get hammered by rental rates or it requires a driver. If you haven’t driven in Cebu before I would advise a driver though purely because there is few markings to where you are going aswell as the general traffic chaos. Can hire myself cheaply though can’t believe I work for less than a taxi. But then again your buying into my experiences as well that I share f
reely. The reason I do that is that the more smart expats there are the less risks there are to us all. I doubt we will ever become a whole community but no harm in giving people pointers in the hope people actually remember to say “thank you!” if it actually makes a difference to their life. My rate for the jeepy? (P2,000 per day inc of me without me is P1,500 but strongly don’t advise if you haven’t driven here before).

So if life is so crap why am I here? most of my problem is I am still young in comparison to a lot of people. I’m 36 most projects here take a lot of money to start then you have to wait a few months to recoup before moving to the next project. That is where my problem lies.. I hate sitting still I have plenty of ideas and they will all eventually happen presently I want to develop a small rental block on a new lot which could cost upto P6million which is based round modular construction. Each apartment can be built as an individual allowing for rentals to come in one by one phasing things in over maybe two years to get it all done. At the same time I am looking at CebuExpat.com to keep me busy but even that I am hoping to involve others not because I need to but purely want other peoples perspectives on things as well as creating something of great interest to all. TropicalPenpals.com was originally just a way to air my views and get the information out there to make life easier for the arriving expat. CebuExpat on the other hand will be more commercialised designed round a different type of website. Same people no doubt and hopefully more readers but just having the right information will make life even easier. E.g. I could write a restaurant review on Tropicalpenpals.com but within Cebuexpat you will find the location and menu. Different type of data although same location. Its a real pain to find things sometimes and this is why CebuExpat.com is being developed not for the “cherries on isle 5 of robinsons mall” but things like “for house removals or freight these companies have already been tried and tested”. If the service is good or bad its important YOU write a review if you used them. Otherwise you can’t complain when there is no information!! lol.. same with “things to do” there are a lot of things that are poorly published throughout the Philippines and could be that your living in the next street to a holiday resort that allows people to swim there everyday and you don’t know it.. or a local theme park. I really want all this information in one place not just for me but for everyone arriving, living and trying to develop business here. I am not just talking about Expats either I know I have a lot of Pinoy’s reading this blog as well and its important you share your knowledge and experiences too.

Anyway if your a new expat please just take your time on anything you do. The realtor trying to talk you into buying a house which has just come on the market has probably been on the market 2 years already and is probably at least a million pesos over priced. Don’t buy a place rent and don’t rent anything you don’t need. e.g. don’t rent a 3-4 bed house because its P20,000 and it isn’t a lot to you when your going to be working abroad and only your partner is left behind. You can find a 1-2 bedroom place for less than P10,000 a month giving you a spare P10,000 for emergencies or paying the bills. Don’t buy an expensive vehicle as there are few buyers who can pay in cash most require installments so if for example your partner gets a visa who is going to look after your shiny new vehicle while abroad? its very likely to be run into the ground while your away or worse. Way up the lifestyle changes of your partner as most people think we are rich in the Philippines. Prime example was a friend of mine who started dating his maid after a couple of weeks she stopped doing any of the housework and just sat and watched TV. He fired her later on they got back together but its the fact that a lot of people assume they can ride the gravy train of your bank account don’t let them. I know of other expats employing other relatives to do house duties at inflated rates to the point those relatives will never work again as they get paid more for running a duster round once a day than they would working a 12 hour shift in a factory. You open these doors to an easy life a lot of people will gladly be the driver, the maid, yaya or cook. But you don’t need them and you need to remember life isn’t always sunny side up so prepare for the worst which involves using your spare capital to develop a sustainable income.

If you want any advice from me you can get it free online or telephone,email or meet ups which I used to do all for free until I started to realise its using all my time and 90% of expats never took it on board to later fall into trouble. I know I sound harsh and blunt but its down to the fact your life is cheap here if you don’t cover your back you can be left penny less, dead or both. Anyway its not going to be as expensive as some are quoting as I do this out of interest of helping others its P500 per hour which in email terms would probably be 6-10 email replies. You can also book my time per day at P2000+ expenses which includes use of the jeepy.

Anyway enough of the sales pitch and its not because I want to be charging in the first place but three years in and the amount of experience and knowledge I have gathered over that time as well as proactive in building a network of people local and expat it would work in your favour. I don’t have all the answers but I do have a lot of solutions.