It is not surprising that when you ask a fresh graduate what’s his/her plans, he/she replies with the word “abroad” in the first sentence. And why not, his or her kuya or uncle or cousin must have tipped him/her that working abroad promises wages inconceivable in the Philippines. He or she gets the chance to travel to places only seen on television. And of course, the apparent hopelessness that he or she will be able to provide good future in the country as an employee.
But before every hopeful drowns into the pool of imagination in the land of milk and whatever, here are some practical tips to would-be overseas Filipino workers.
Verify your employment agency
Should you take that route of seeking the assistance of employment agency, make sure that you do the basic background check: verify the agency status at POEA, check its address, phone number, validity of license and whether it’s Good Standing, Delisted or Cancelled. Even if it is Good Standing, ensure that you are dealing with an authorized recruiter/employee from that agency. One helpful tip is to get referrals from friends who have successfully pursued their overseas jobs previously. For a brief but important list of avoiding illegal recruitment, POEA has some tips.
For every payment you pay, whether it’s necessary fees for OFW services, medical examinations or other fees charged by your agency. This helps ensure that you can track your transactions should something go wrong and be able to provide proof to show. For example, if your application hit snag and you can’t proceed to your intended job abroad, these receipts will be useful in seeking for refunds. And if you are looking for assistance from OWWA, receipts are probably the first things you need to secure.
Get a valid visa
Be sure that your passport has a valid working visa before you agree on flying to your designated working place. For the record, no country allows visitors to work with tourist visas. If you have a tourist rather than a work visa authorization, you should insist on working for a company that will support an appropriate employment visa. This is not unusual practice on places not far from the Philippines such as Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. But it’s more like a gamble to do so especially if your skill is not hard to find in those cities. Also, if something happens to you (accident, abuse, etc) your host country will likely not be able to support as much as it should when you have a proper working visa.
Attend government sanctioned seminars
One of the seminars to attend to is the Pre Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS), an important step in getting to know more about your intended destination. From cultural differences to settlement arrangements, PDOS provides these types of information. The idea is that whatever required seminars you need to attend, you have to attend them. Instead of bypassing them and scrambling to adjust to your new life abroad, it pays to follow the necessary steps. Most cases of those who got duped or fell victim of human trafficking are those who have inadequate information about employment abroad and are not aware of their rights as workers, and unable to act accordingly once signs of maltreatment or abuse appear.
Prepare a roaming phone for easier communication
During your first few months in your new location, calling loved ones in the Philippines can become a big luxury. However, international calls may be expensive unless you are clever enough to find other means. That could be bringing an activated Smart or Globe roaming SIM card. This helps relatives or friends in the Philippines to send SMS to you at Philippine rates. Installing a Skype-enabled personal computer at home and give instructions to your family how to reach you.
In the age where communication through Internet such as mobile data or free wifi connection, use of roaming SIM card has quickly faded into obscurity. Using Skype, Messenger or WhatsApp/Viber Internet call not only is handy using one’s mobile device, it also comes free and has continuous service unlike international phone cards. However, since many localities in the Philippines still do not have reliable Internet connection, traditional means of communication is more practical.
Bring backup copies of travel documents
This includes your passport, OWWA registration, air tickets and other receipts. These documents can easily get mixed up on transit as airport staff (guards, airline front desk, immigration, etc) keep asking for them. And when you arrive in your work location, these documents are still subject for inspection. Losing them can be a nightmare, so having a set of duplicates (hard copy or self-emailed scanned copies) is advisable.
Prepare your local bank account for overseas remittance
If your hometown has reliable banks your family can withdraw money from, set up an account in that bank. It would then be cheaper for you to send money using a virtual bank transfer instead of sending a door-to-door remittance. Also, if the bank offers online banking facility, you can have easier access to your account balance even when you’re outside the Philippines.
While new financial technologies enable more convenient way of transferring funds such as WeChat Remit and bitcoin, traditional methods such as MoneyGram and Western Union to Palawan, Cebuana Lhuillier and other receiving agents in the Philippines is still widely adopted.
Bring reasonable amount of currency with you
Bring in a reasonable amount of host currency when you fly to your destination. This is for contingency purposes (taxi fare, hotel, food, phone calls). Airports usually have money exchange counters but in case they are closed at the time of your arrival, having that desired currency in your wallet gives you a feeling of confidence on your first trip to that country.
Note that there is a limit to how much money one can carry while traveling. Remember that money laundering is a financial crime and that the Philippines used to be on that FATF blacklist for being “uncooperative” in the fight against money laundering. Thus, it may be not surprising if immigration and custom officials are going to scrutinize you on this matter.
As a rule of thumb, have enough budget sufficient for your first month of stay abroad and other expenses such as setting up of mobile phone account, transport expenses, food and accommodation as needed. By the time you receive your salary, you should be able to figure out your daily expenses and savings.
Be practical in what to put into your luggage
Bring clothing and other personal effects worth at a week or two to get you ready for work. In most cases, you need to buy new clothing in your host country but in many cases it’s cheaper to buy in the Philippines. The bad side of it is you could pay excess baggage which can be very expensive per kilogram. There are other things you need to fit into that luggage so there is no point bringing in your entire wardrobe. Also, be aware of forbidden items to bring to your destination. For example, Australia prohibits entry of various types of food stuff.
Deciding to work abroad means forgoing your usual lifestyle, leave your comfort zone and embrace change. Although going abroad is not meant for everyone, such decision to do so you have been discerning for a reasonable amount of time can be a rewarding experience, not just with monetary gains, but lessons in life. Therefore, it is imperative that before you fly to your work destination, enough preparation and diligence should be done to make this transition as smooth as possible.