The Philippines – A cash society
Yes, the Philippines is most definitely a cash-society. EFTPOS terminals are rare, as are credit card facilities. Even at Down Under Visa, we don’t have a credit card terminal or even one of those swiping things which makes an imprint on a form. Down Under Visa, yes…..but can’t use your visa card in our office. We rely on direct EFT deposits into our account or the ever-convenient PayPal for payments.
In Australia, I could go for days without ever reaching for my wallet. And I could get away with a debit card (ATM card) for just about everything. Buy fuel…buy the groceries at the supermarket, etc? Use the card, put in the PIN, and you’re in business. Not so easy here. You really need to have cash with you, or you could find yourself caught short at an inconvenient time.
The other issue is that of security. Not sure I would want to wave a credit card around at every little place that accepted them. In SM or a major hotel? Sure. But in a local 7-11 or at the Petron? I’d be a bit concerned about where the numbers may end up.
ATM and credit card security
The Philippines is a third-world country. There are less “have’s” and more “have-not’s”. Plenty of people who live day to day, and lacking marketable and employable skills many turn to crime. And you are a white man….a rich foreigner….so that makes you a target. You will stand out regardless of how unobtrusive you try to be. So you need to watch your cash, and most importantly your credit cards and ATM cards. They could easily drain your account if they can access your ATM. And whilst you can generally get money back from fraudulent use of your credit card, you still need to prove it.
ATM cards? You want to make sure you only use them in safe places, and that means genuine ATM machines that have not been tampered with. Dodgy-looking solitary machines out the front of minor malls somewhere? Or in places that are not well-lit? If someone puts a card-skimmer onto the card slot, then you could have all your data as well as your PIN scanned and stolen. So use some commonsense.
Paying cash for everything in the Philippines
Nearly everything here is done for cash. Australia still has many free things, especially those small things which seem too petty to ask for money for. I’ve even had glasses (eye glasses….not drinking glasses) repaired by optometrists in Australia for free. You get air in the car tyres for free. You get a JP to witness documents for free. And whilst it may depend on the church, you can get baptised, married and buried all for free. Not so in the Philippines! Get the priest to bless your house, and the hand goes out! I have difficulty in adjusting to that, I can tell you.
I suppose much of this must come down to whether you generally have enough that (a) you don’t need to chase small amounts of money, plus (b) you have a bit of an abundance and are therefore reasonably happy to share. Here whilst the Filipino friend, neighbor or relative may have enough goodness in his heart to want to help you, he may not have the abundance to share or the cash to do that thing.
That means if they collect you from the airport, chances are the van needs to be paid for. If they have you around for dinner, maybe they can’t afford the lechon manok or the coca cola that they want to offer you. Have a headache? Chances are there’s no paracetamol in the house and someone needs to rush off and buy two.
And other issue is genuine poverty. The person who can only get a job collecting P5 for use of the public toilet, or for guiding you into traffic when you leave the mall, or for putting air in your tyres, that might be essential for feeding his kids. No one gives tips in Australia, because people are paid well. Not so in the Philippines. It’s pretty well accepted that those who can give, should give. It’s rarely very much. So be prepared to share some of the abundance that you have with those who do not.