A blunt heading, but it’s a topic I feel like being blunt about. As an Australian man in the Philippines, you simply don’t want to be poor. Mila and myself have lived here full time for just over seven years, and we do OK. Our business is successful, and we therefore live comfortably. We’re also conservative and cautious about money, savings and investments. Because there is no safety net. You run out of money, and you are out on the streets and all alone. Being a poor Australian in the Philippines is no fun at all!
Poor foreigners in the Philippines
We have friends here amongst the Australian expats in the Philippines, as well as Canadians, Americans and Englishmen and a stray Iranian. Some come here with investments, superannuation, etc. Others have their home country pension. Others run businesses. There are those who work for Embassies and global companies with a few key staff from Australia or wherever who are on fairly healthy salaries with benefits. I can’t say I know any personally.
Most of the Aussies and other nationality expats here are either on pensions or are running businesses. Mostly? Not doing so well. Mostly money is tight, and they do without a lot of things. And I wonder why they do it, to be quite honest.
No matter where you live in the world, of course there’s a wolf at the door. However countries like Australia have very obvious safety nets. Without meaning to appear unsympathetic to any reader on a low income, no one in Australia really falls that far. Not like they do here in Philippines. Australia has Centrelink benefits. There’s housing commission accommodation. There’s Medicare, and states like QLD have free hospitals. Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, even cheaper if you’re on Government benefits. You can even get St Vincent de Paul to bring you a food package if you’re really short.
The Philippines? There is no social security that is public, or at least not open to those who didn’t have contributions paid into it while they were working here. So nothing for an Australian expat. No housing commission. No charities that would take you very seriously if you turned up on their doorstep. And try turning up at a hospital with no money and see how far you get. And unlike poor Filipinos, you don’t have a mountain of relatives and friends who will chip in and help you out when things go wrong.
What can happen to poor Australians?
I’ve known Australians here to end up literally begging for help when things have gone wrong. Health issues and failed businesses are probably the worst problems that can strike the Australian ex-pat. If a man gets sick he can not only lose his source of income, he can have serious medical bills.
Case in point. A very sad story. We had a friend. Australian builder who was trying to establish a business here in Manila. Did great work. We had him doing some work at our place, and we were very happy with what he was doing. But could see that he was struggling. Great builder, but wasn’t an astute businessman at all. Ended up getting ill, and died because he couldn’t afford proper care. The Australian Embassy only contacted his family in Australia for him. They won’t loan money. He left a wife and three kids behind.
And we have another friend here who’s been getting chest pains over the last few weeks. Wife and two kids, plus a demanding business. The worry is written all over his face, and as a friend we’re worried for him too. No Medicare to foot the bill, and if he’s not there to run his business the doors will close. And no, he’s also not rolling in spare cash. A few weeks without income, and he will be in trouble.
I won’t elaborate today on the folly of many Australians assuming they can set the Filipino world on fire with their great business ideas. Many make wild assumptions as to what would most certainly be successful here, only to find out how wrong they were. I’ve written about this in other BLOG articles, older readers will remember. Many an Australian comes here and misjudges the marketplace completely. Finds Filipino customers unwilling to part with money and unwilling to try anything new. Finds customers who will do everything to avoid paying their accounts. Those who expect bribes before signing contracts. Competition who can survive on much lower incomes that they ever could. So many a business either fails or at least doesn’t produce what will pay for a moderately comfortable lifestyle with some savings to cover emergencies.
Yes, savings. Some fat to fall back on during lean times and to cover those unexpected emergencies. Illnesses and hospitalization. Operations. Typhoons and earthquakes. Cars needing to be replaced. Family emergencies where your conscience doesn’t allow you to watch a child go without medical treatment. And lean business times, business failures and getting fired from stable employment. I was talking to an expat once who bought an expensive house a few years back, and said when they’d settled up he had less than a thousand dollars in the bank. That’s insane! What if a tragedy had struck at the same time? Then what?
And expats are well known for falling into schemes and scams designed to part them from their savings too. Many come here with hundreds of thousands in the bank only to end up wondering where it all went. Farming ventures. Businesses which have depended on trusted relatives doing the right thing which have failed because they didn’t do the right thing. Buying into bars, restaurants, resorts and ending up with nothing after 6 months. And plenty of stories of trusted wives and sweethearts who have drained bank accounts right under their noses.
The point here is to realise well and truly that you’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. This is the Philippines. There is a PACK of wolves at the door, and they all have rabies! Fail due to carelessness, scams, excessive optimism and a lack of sound planning, and you will fall harder than you ever imagined you could. It may leave you bankrupt and devoid of your life savings, or it may even see you in an earlier grave than you expected. Be cautious and only take those risks you can afford to live with if they fail. Don’t overestimate your abilities, and know that you will never be so acclimatized that you cannot make stupid mistakes due to ignorance. And if your savings are dwindling, pack up and leave while you still can.