You may read plenty of harrowing stories of hardships, abuse, and uncertainties that come with being an overseas Filipino worker. But since overseas jobs often pay more than those back home, Filipinos will keep striving to land a job in Dubai.
To some Filipinos who have only heard success tales of life in Dubai and saw photos on social media showing OFWs at parties or travel escapades, but never had gone out of the country, there might be such wrong or inaccurate illusion of life as a migrant worker.
Let’s examine some of the most common perceptions of life as OFWs and get to know the reality behind each of them.
Myth: OFWs can simply arrive in Dubai and land a job
Some friends might cite friends of their friends who have gone through the grueling experience at Philippine immigration and got a pass to take their flight to Dubai as tourists. You might be encouraged to take the same route of flying to Dubai with a tourist visa and take the risk of applying there instead of a legitimate working visa from a job offer before leaving the Philippines.
Reality: Filipino tourists have difficulty in landing jobs
Or at least the jobs they desire and the benefits they are expected to receive. As a tourist in Dubai, you have limited leverage as recruiters are well aware you are in the emirate on a limited duration. At some point you need to choose between accepting a low-ball job offer or return empty-handed, wasting money, time and effort. There are also Filipinos who offer in-demand skills or highly-relevant experience and got job offers with nice perks, but we think they are an exception than the norm.
Myth: Most OFWs live in high-rise buildings in Dubai
Who wouldn’t think so if most of what we see about Dubai on lifestyle television are posh residential villas, high-rise buildings — including Burj Khalifa, the tallest of them all — and perceived luxury in many aspects of life. This may include expensive police cars and the world’s largest mall and world’s only seven-star hotel.
Reality: Most OFWs live in cramped accommodations
Away from the opulent apartments that offer great views and large spaces, most Filipino workers in Dubai prefer to live in small apartments, often in groups to minimize expenses.
Dubai’s real estate prices are at stratospheric levels so for Filipinos to send money back to families back in the Philippines, or even afford a little bit of pampering for themselves, the budget towards living accommodations is often the first to be sacrificed to save money. One reason behind this is that many Filipinos are used to living in similar conditions back home so there’s not much adjustment necessary to be in such living conditions.
So instead of sleeping in large, spacious rooms, many Filipinos share flats and occupy double bunk beds in rooms that fit four people or more.
Myth: Jobs abroad pay well
Money: it’s the very reason that many Filipinos leave jobs, families, and opportunities in the Philippines in favor of employment abroad. This pervading perception that the sacrifice is worth the rewards of a well-paying overseas job. In Dubai, a driver can pay above AED35,000 a year or over a half a million pesos per year. That driver’s salary is unheard of in the Philippines, even for many white-collar jobs!
Reality: Yes, jobs pay well but they don’t seem enough
Perhaps not making enough research about the cost of living abroad, many OFWs often think of salary and what it can buy in Philippine terms. With that salary range, it’s no problem to send three kids to private school, apply for a new subdivision unit or buy an SUV on installment terms.
What isn’t factored in many cases is the cost of living in Dubai. Once you receive your salary, among the first thing you think about is not your family’s expenses, but your expenses. You need to pay for your apartment, your daily transport (if not provided by the company), food and other provisions (toiletries, clothing, etc). And these expenses may be different (and more expensive) than in the Philippines.
With such expenses already eating a significant portion of wages, there is little left to send back to family. No wonder many OFWs are willing to take other jobs to earn extra even if this means violating their employment contract on exclusivity of employment and income-earning.
Myth: I promise to visit you here every X months/years
It is easy to make promises because, in an ideal situation, there’s that work hard, play hard that allows you to enjoy work-life balance.
Reality: I am too busy at work / have no budget to go home
Many OFWs are blessed to afford and have time to visit their families or fly them over for vacation at their workplace. However, there are more who don’t have this ability to do so. Sometimes they think that travel is an expense and would instinctively decide that the cost of flying home may be better spent when sent as remittance money.
Myth: You can easily buy branded clothing and accessories
The apparent high disposable income OFWs in Dubai could be in full display as they wear trendy clothing and brand-conscious folks almost exclusively wear them to look good, gain a certain reputation or both. When they go home for vacation, they could turn heads with their Nike shoes and Prada handbags not sold in the Philippines. Some appliances are so sophisticated that family members don’t know how to use them.
Reality: Goods are sold at heavily discounted price
Dubai is home to mega sales that are hard to resist for both free-spenders and penny pinchers alike. So it will not be surprising to see kababayans brandishing their latest gadget and fashion acquisitions. There’s nothing wrong with wearing nice clothing, and being brand conscious only if you have the means to do so, or buying them did not cost a fortune.
Myth: OFWs often eat fast food and fancy fine-dining restaurants
Many Filipinos are often lured with the idea of YOLO (you only live once). And since you’re already in Dubai why not make the most of it. And “it” could mean doing something you don’t or can’t normally do such as try that desert safari, try that skydiving experience or experience what’s it like to dine at 7-star hotel Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.
Reality: Nissin Noodle Cup or Ligo Sardines are good enough
Although there are OFWs who won’t mind spending quite a fortune to try this once-in-a-lifetime experience, the majority will be content on eating without spending much. Perhaps eating in a fancy restaurant is best done when you’re with the family? So postponing this until a vacation back home is what’s in the mind of price-conscious OFWs.
So when you think life in Dubai is glamorous, it may not be as glamorous as you think. Let’s bust these myths and stick with reality.