I’m a big fan of using LinkedIn for business purposes. For those not familiar with LinkedIn, it is sort of a professional version of Facebook, where you post items related to your career, rather than personal information. It is for networking, plain and simple. Because of this fact, I leave off family photos and the like, concentrating on my CV, updates from my company, and so on. One of the features of LinkedIn is the ability to join different “groups”, based on your profession. Here’s my profile, and feel free to take a look if you are unfamiliar with LinkedIn.
I joined several expat groups in LinkedIn related to the Philippines, one of which is a group, Expat Philippines, geared towards working expats living here. As a result of this group, I receive perhaps three to four inquiries per week related to finding a job in the Philippines from Americans or Europeans, and my response is almost always the same (No doubt bursting a few bubbles or receiving a reply that I don’t know what I’m talking about.). Needless to say, most of these inquiries are often unrealistic, at best, and I really hate telling people the truth: Unless you are highly skilled in a profession that is in demand and those skills cannot be locally matched, it is highly unlikely that you will find a position with either a domestic or foreign firm here.
What is in demand in the Philippines?:
- Highly specialized engineering (civil, electrical, computer, mechanical), with many years of experience and educational pedigree.
- Scientific professions, like chemists or petroleum research.
- Maritime, transportation, or aviation related fields with many years of experience.
- Financial managers and accountants with impeccable pedigrees.
- Highly skilled defense contractors with many years of specialized experience unobtainable in the Philippines (radar technicians, security consultants, and so on).
- Native English-speaking teachers at local wages. (200 – 1,000 pesos per day, IF you are good and have the background)
- Some specialized hospitality management (Hotel General Managers, Skilled well-known Chefs, Scuba Instructors)
- Mining experts, Forestry experts, and some Agricultural experts. (And… I mean EXPERT, to even be considered.)
- Experienced, native English-speaking, call center managers. (Wages are typically below US levels, but above Filipino levels).
- Experienced, native English-speaking, BPO managers. (Just being a foreigner will normally NOT land you these positions.)
This list is, by no means, comprehensive, and there are exceptions, but the vast majority of expat jobs that would pay anywhere near Western-level wages are in these fields. You will also require a work permit sand your employer will have to PROVE that there is a shortage of Filipino workers who can successfully fill your position. That is not easy for a company to do, and can get expensive: You had better be amongst the best in your field.
Notice what is missing from the list: Any trades (plumber, mason, electrician, carpenter), any blue collar (factory, foremen, etc.), business management (plenty of office managers here), most service industry (plenty of people here can fill those positions), all middle management, positions with “transferable” skills, any retail management, most sales or marketing (unless, like me, you have specialized, specific, industry knowledge that is in demand), most computer and IT positions (There are thousands of Filipinos with those skills), most health care (Unless extremely specialized), any artistic positions (Journalist, painter, musician, photographer, graphic design, interior design… You can freelance, but you had better be good and know where to sell your work. Most expats doing these things are already well-known in their profession outside of the Philippines).
I am, most likely, in the minority among expats in the Philippines in that I have a regular job for my income. I’m not retired and, despite a few external goings on, I rely on an employer to make money. My skill set is specialized to my industry, and none of my customers are in the Philippines. Foreign companies typically do not source expats locally to fill positions. They typically either transfer people (existing staff) from their home country or advertise the positions in their home country.
Some people always seem to be looking for the cherry expat packages common even ten or twenty years ago. Those days are nearly over. Why? It is simply more cost effective to hire locally. Those who receive such packages are typically transferred here from other locations or their expertise is in high demand and unavailable in the Philippines: Take a look at the list I made. Each of those positions are highly technical, and require years of education and experience. If you are very, very lucky, a typical expat package consists of: Salary (often with serious tax benefits depending on your country of origin), insurance, educational stipend for your children, paid leave back “home” (flights, time), subsidized rent or a place to live, and some form of transportation stipend in the form of a company car or other arrangement. Pretty sweet, eh? However, these packages are very rare, and were never particularly common in the Philippines, even when the global economy was robust. Traditionally, these types of packages were given to entice skilled professionals to work in dangerous, developing locations where adjustment or assimilation would prove difficult. Or, they were given to VERY senior executives as a “perk” to entice them away from corporate offices (Hence, many expats on packages in Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. Traditionally, the way to the top in most large corporations is NOT through overseas branches… You are compensated well, but accepting such positions is often a “career killer” in really big companies. Out of sight, out of mind at the executive level.) That is why they were once common in the Middle East, China, and Africa. This is no longer the case. Plenty of engineers and OFWs work in those places. Why pay some American 25 times as much when a Filipino engineer would do the same job without the expensive benefits? My package consists of about half of that list, and I’ve been in this business quite some time, with the education.
It all comes down to supply and demand: There are millions of people in the country looking for work and willing to work at a mere fraction of Western wages. Most are degreed (McDonald’s employees nearly all have college degrees, some with advanced degrees. They earn a few hundred pesos per day), and, despite productivity and other concerns, most companies here are extremely reluctant to pay serious premiums for merely expat experience. You had better be able to do something in that is in demand. Remember: over 15 million Filipinos left the country because there was no work here. Why would anyone seriously consider hiring a foreigner unless they had skills that were needed and unobtainable here?
So, what do I tell people who ask?
- I refer them to LiP, and to Dave Starr’s Philfaqs site. Both Bob and Dave have written extensively about employment in the Philippines.
- I ask what they wish to do. They MUST have a goal. General “help me find a job” inquiries are useless.
- I tell them about the “real” job situation in the Philippines. Are they prepared to work for local wages? (MOST are NOT!)
- Unless really specialized, I tell them to consider self-employment or develop an income stream before they leave.
- These jobs are nearly always obtained overseas, through networking. Hence, I really like LinkedIn: If searching for employment, most likely where that job lead will originate.
- I tell them that they had better be able to sell themselves into the position. Someone needs a bona-fide reason to hire you. As a foreigner, you are, by default, far more expensive, so YOU need to prove why they should hire you.
Several people have written me stating that they understand that wages here are lower and would work for those wages, but since the cost of living is lower, then “No Problem”. These are almost always the people who get angry with me or say that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Yes, the cost of living may be lower, but most Westerners would not be willing to live under Filipino standards, making Filipino wages, doing without aircon and creature comforts, all the while working for a tyrannical boss who counts every Peso with no legal protection… Millions of Filipinos do so, and it is possible, but I hardly think that is the cherry expat package that these folks have in mind!
I’m not trying to be mean or intentionally ruin someone’s dream. However, I would not be doing anyone any favors by gilding the lily. I’m telling the truth and the reality.
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.