Working abroad as an Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) is one of the most difficult ways to live. Not only do you need to bear the pain of being away from your nearest and dearest, but you also have to stay strong and endure the difficulty of living in a foreign land for a long time, especially if you are the main breadwinner of the family.
So, now that you have endured the tedious process of securing a job as a migrant Filipino worker, here are some tips that you can follow to make your first two years overseas just a little bit more bearable. These tips will help you survive and ensure that you do not waste the opportunities that come along during your first years of working in a foreign land.
How to Survive as an OFW Abroad
Regardless of what country you are deployed to, your experiences as an OFW will always be different from those of others like you. Either way, you can still do better with these tips to ensure that your life as a newbie OFW is as smooth and rewarding as possible:
1. Always start with a plan.
Regardless of what you intend to achieve by seeking work abroad, it’s always best to have a plan before you do anything else. Since you are starting, it’s best to have specific goals and action plans for the duration of your stay. If you have no idea what that means, you may start by answering the following questions:
- How many years are you planning to work abroad?
- How much money do you plan to save up?
- Are you planning to settle there for good?
- Do you plan to bring your family?
- Do you want to just work there?
- How long do you plan to work abroad? 10 years? Until you can buy your own house? Until you can save X amount of money to start a business back home? Or, until your children reach a certain age?
It’s best to be clear about these things so you can at least create some sort of roadmap to stick to for the duration of your stay. Doing away with the fatalistic come what may (“bahala na”) attitude, a common socio-cultural Filipino value, by having a plan in place will surely help you become more successful in the long run.
2. Communicate with your family and get them involved.
Moving to a far-off place to work isn’t something that you decide on your own. The decision affects the people around you as well, so it’s only fair that you discuss whatever plans you have with them.
Communicating with and involving your family in making your decisions will help them be aware that there’s a limit to the OFW income that can supplement their lifestyle. Also, letting your family know about your plans will get them involved and feel worthy enough to have a say in the matter, which will smooth out the relationship. Plus, it will set their expectations about money which will help you manage your finances better. Who knows? They might even prove helpful in setting up investments that will help you stick to your plans about working abroad. After all, families are there for a reason—to share whatever plans or burdens you may have, along with the joy and happiness your success may bring.
3. Set a schedule for work and personal time.
Aside from the plan, you need to establish your schedule abroad. Write down your work hours as well as the schedule you set aside for your family’s video or phone call. Take time to talk to your wife or husband and children on the phone or video chat if possible every day. It’s okay to be repetitive and boring. Having time for conversations with your family will make them and you feel less lonely.
Plan and schedule vacation dates so they will coincide with important occasions when you visit your family. Make it a point to know exactly what you are supposed to be doing at what time and try your best to stick to it to make your time and activities more worthwhile.
4. Learn about the country, the people, and their culture.
Once you start working abroad and before you do anything else, it’s best to learn everything about the place, the people, and the culture you are going to be living with. Understanding cultural differences, especially the different body languages, customs, traditions, and the way people live, are all important parts of preparation for working and living well in another country.
Follow the customs of those who know the ropes. This would help save you a lot of trouble, especially when you get trapped in a tight spot unknowingly. As they say, “when in Rome, do like the Romans do.” Make things easier for yourself.
5. Create a monthly budget and stick to it.
Many OFWs, especially the newbies, forget the importance of budgeting and sticking to it. It’s normal, considering that you are now earning in dollars as opposed to the rates you were getting back in the Philippines. While it can be tempting especially when you start seeing all the stuff that seems to cost way too much in the Philippines, it is still in your best interest to exercise restraint. Just because you are earning more doesn’t mean that you should go all out by letting your expenses increase. This could cause more trouble, especially if you did not use your own money, but instead used loans as capital, when you started your journey to work abroad.
Setting a budget is important in tracking your earnings and expenses. It will also help you identify where you could cut corners, especially if your earnings are nowhere near enough for yourself and your family. It will be best to try to stick to how much you were spending before you started earning more. This way, you’ll have the extra earnings go to bigger savings which you can later use for your investment, children’s education, and retirement.
Also, make sure to work hand-in-hand with your family back home. This means not letting them do all the budgeting but taking some time to be active participants. You are, after all, the one who’s earning the money in question. Ensure that you have access to all your bank accounts, expenses reports, and even progress reports, in case you were investing in developments of your home or business back in the Philippines. Synchronize your budget plan with that of your family and do not leave your money and dreams at the mercy of others.
6. Pay off your debts, one at a time.
Most OFWs start their migrant worker journey by either taking loans or pawning off properties. As such, most people set off with pending financial obligations back home. The sad part is, that a lot of people tend to forget about using this opportunity to pay back their debts, which results in even more financial problems down the road.
To avoid such pitfalls, OFWs should take the time to fit the loan repayments into their budget plan as soon as they start earning. The earlier they start, the better it is for them, especially if they are one of those who pawned off some belongings before they started. This is especially true for those who do not intend to lose some of their most prized assets. This is also a must if they intend to apply for a bigger loan later. After all, paying off debts on time helps build trust and financial relationships. Plus, it gives you a good credit rating and reputation back home which can be useful in times of need.
To do this, it is imperative to list down all the loans that need paying, along with their due dates, interest rates, and outstanding balances. This way, it will make it easier to schedule and keep track of loan payments and identify which ones should be paid off when and how much. In case it is impossible to pay everything at once, this same list will at least help them prioritize which loans to pay first.
7. Live a simple life and don’t get your family used to luxury.
This particular tip applies to both the OFW and their families. Both sides must remember that just because one member of the family is earning in a different currency doesn’t mean that they have become rich or that they can afford to splurge on a lot of things. One thing most families in the Philippines forget is that OFWs have to pay for their living expenses too and because they are in a country with a currency that costs so much more than ours in the Philippines, they also spend a lot more on their basic needs, much more than we do back home.
Another thing that makes many OFWs forget to live a simple life both for themselves and their families is the belief that OFWs need to compensate for their absence in their families’ lives by giving them everything they ask for. OFWs tend to give in to their family’s demands, forgetting that they need to start saving instead of letting their families get used to living a life of luxury.
To do this, OFWs must learn how to set limits both for themselves and their families. They need to remember that they are abroad so the family can have a better life and that there is no need to “pay” for their absence with material things. This will help them say no to unreasonable demands from the family.
Remember: the sooner OFWs start to increase their savings and improve their finances, the sooner they can go back home to be with their family. So, try to keep it simple and save for an even better future together instead. There’s nothing wrong with letting them know what their OFW relative is sacrificing for every expensive gift or gadget that is made available to them.
8. Take good care of yourself.
As the one who is working and earning for the family, every OFW needs to know how to take care of himself. After all, at the end of the day, they are the ones doing the work. Plus, they are alone in a foreign land with no relatives to take care of them if they do get sick. So, they must pay special attention to their physical and mental well-being so they will survive whatever harsh environment they encounter.
The best way that an OFW can take care of himself is to make sure that he takes a break, eats well, gets some rest, has fun, and treats himself once in a while. Allot some funds on healthy food and activities. Quit vices. Occasionally pamper your body. Take leaves when necessary and stop working when tired or sick. Learn the value of relaxation and you’ll see that it will all pay off in the end. OFWs are experts at forgetting themselves too much, not realizing that doing so would mean the loss of livelihood for all of the people who depend on them. Remember that you need to be healthy to be able to work and support your loved ones.
9. Establish an endpoint.
Set a deadline, an endpoint, a finish line. Put forward a finite number of years or an end date to your time abroad. Whether it’s according to the number of years or the achievement unlocked (like a graduation of a child or the building of a house), make sure you have a clear end to the time you’ll be spending abroad. Once you do, you can start desperately striving to achieve it before the deadline by sticking to a work plan.
You will also have the right motivation to work which will help you stay focused on what matters, instead of getting distracted with petty things and leisure activities. When it’s time to go home, do not allow yourself to be persuaded or tempted to stay or take on another job for any reason. If you had executed your plan and had managed your finances well, you should have a decent capital for when you come back home to retire or start your own business.
Coming from a third world country, it is not surprising that a lot of Filipinos wish to work abroad. There are plenty of opportunities for employment, and the salary is often much higher than what can be earned at home. However, working as an OFW can be a daunting and dangerous experience. There are many stories of OFWs being abused by their employers, or becoming victims of crime.
In order to survive as an OFW , it is important to take some precautions. First, it is important to do your research before accepting a job offer. Make sure you are aware of your rights as an employee, and that the company you will be working for has a good reputation. Second, it is important to build a support network of fellow OFWs.
This can provide you with practical advice and emotional support during difficult times. Finally, it is important to stay in touch with your family and friends back home. This will help you to feel connected to your roots, and remind you of what you are working towards. With some preparation and caution, it is possible to survive and thrive as an OFW abroad.
With these in mind and with the help of your family and these tips, you can work abroad with inspiration. After 10 or 15 years of working in another country, you will be coming home with something to show for it, causing fewer worries about your family’s future.