Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) are described as the Modern Day Heroes especially in the Philippines where there is so much poverty around. In 2015, OFWs remittances amounted to $25.7 Billion, a very substantial source of financing for families as well as funding for the country’s projects, making the Philippines the world’s third largest recipient of remittances.
Anyone with a relation abroad awaits the day a balikbayan package arrives laden with imported goods such as chocolates, shoes, clothes, gadgets and other shiny trinkets. In fact, it has been observed that families with a son, daughter or parents overseas are brimming with pride and are mostly envied by neighbors regardless of the OFWs type of work.
But what they don’t know is the fact that majority of our Overseas Filipino Workers are neck-deep in debt and have sacrificed a lot to provide a better life for their families. In truth, most OFWs incur several debts even before they set foot in foreign countries to seek greener pastures.
So if you are still under the impression that all OFWs are rich, thus justify the ATM-like treatment, here are a couple of home truths about OFWs.
No. 1 – OFWs are not rich
If they are, they should have been home right now managing a booming business instead of working in a foreign land with strangers. Majority of the OFWs stay overseas for 5 – 10 years on average. This excludes OFWs who chose to migrate and become citizens, but even then only a very small percentage are considered rich or well-off.
No. 2 – OFWs have multiple debts
The family already took out several OFW loans to pay for placement fees (Php 50,000 – Php 100,000 on average) and documentation fees before can actually go abroad. Not to mention, the pocket money they need to budget and spend sparingly while looking for a job abroad, if they don’t have a contract waiting yet.
No. 3 – OFWs don’t earn a huge income
Perhaps converted to peso it becomes a big amount. But what people fail to realize is while OFWs earn dollars, they also spend in dollars. Cost of living varies from one country to another but one thing is sure, it’s more expensive than in the Philippines. It has become common to hold two to three jobs and earn more to support their families back home.
No. 4 – OFWs don’t fill the balikbayan box in one day shopping spree
OFWs manage to fill a balikbayan box with one thing after another within several months span. Some stories told are our kababayan scrimping on food and saving on other basic necessities just to send a “majestic” balikbayan box back home.
No. 5 – OFWs don’t have a lot of savings
Between paying multiple debts, providing for their family in the Philippines, living expenses and filling the balikbayan box, there is nothing much to save, if at all. It’s no wonder OFWs who come back to the Philippines for good do not have much for investment and are forced to find work in the country.
No. 6 – OFWs don’t come home millionaires
What you probably think of the left and right spending while on vacation is not from their savings or “extra money”, but mostly likely a month or two-month’ worth of pay or what’s left of it. There are even some who gets an OFW loan to have extra money to be “happy-happy” during their vacation.
No. 7 – OFWs can’t easily go back abroad
Most of the time the money that OFWs set aside for their trip back abroad are spent with the family (shopping, going to the beach, emergencies etc.) after a month’s vacation, which leaves them no other alternative than to get an OFW loan.
No. 8 – OFWs don’t live a carefree life
You may see a lot of OFWs posting pictures of their travels on different parts of the country abroad, but the truth is just like in the Philippines they are mostly budget travels which they have been saving up for months from what little is left from their pay check and after back-breaking 9 to 5 work. They surely deserve it.
No. 9 – OFWs don’t live in luxurious houses
What you see as air conditioned homes, comfy living rooms with grand appliances are in fact a shared house with not less than 10 person living in it. Some are even sharing bedrooms just to cut cost and save more for other things. They also share the expense for the food and other bills. Sharing is a thing of beauty which helps keep them fed until the next pay check.
No. 10 – The cars OFWs drive are on credit
OFWs with cars were actually forced to get a car via credit because it’s way more costly and tiresome to commute and taxis are too expensive. So that adds to their existing debt which they need to pay off monthly.
The Big Reality Check
This is reality check for OFW relatives and aspiring OFWs. So before you go off splurging hard-earned money for the latest gadget, appliances and whatnots thinking your OFW family member will be able to afford it since they’re earning dollars, think again. As much as possible, ask only for what is necessary.
As for OFWs, distinguish between a good loan versus a bad loan. It’s a good loan if this helps improve your life and that of your family (emergency, investment, processing etc.), whereas, it’s bad loan if its purpose is to show people you have an awesome and lavish lifestyle abroad (latest mobile phone, jewelries etc.). Also don’t let yourself be treated as human ATMs. Make sure you know where your money is going. One last thing, SAVE, SAVE, SAVE! You can’t work forever.
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