Since it is so close to Christmas I figured this was a very good time to bring a couple things to the attention of those thinking about moving to the Philippines, dreaming about moving to the Philippines or just remotely interested in the idea … which covers a lot of people who will be reading these words.
I’m an American, so remember that I really can only write with any authority about conditions here in the Philippines or how they were back in the USA, lo those many years ago when I lived there.
Consumer protection and Consumer Rights are a big, big thing in the US. Even though many US businesses persist in hiring poorly trained or disinterested employees (who often cause the very complaints they have to deal with), in a vast majority of cases the American consumer gets what she or he wants.
In many cases it’s granted by law. In the Philippines, even in stores and businesses which look the same as their US counterparts, consumer rights are likely no where near the same. A few examples:
Credit cards: Fraud protection: In spite of many people’s irrational fear about losing their credit cards, US issued credit cards can not cost the consumer more than a total of $50 USD, by Federal law.
In most cases, credit card issuers waive even that. The law provides this protection regardless of notifying the bank to cancel the card. You are pretty safe, no matter what happens to your card. Philippine-issued credit cards have no such protection. You are liable up to the credit limit on the card if the card gets stolen or fraudulently used, up until you can notify the bank and the bank confirms notification. Does that give you an idea about why I don’t recommend carrying any Philippine-issued cards?
Fees: In the US it’s typically illegal to charge two prices for an item, cash or credit. Some states have laws like that on their books, and the major credit card carriers, like Visa, have that written into their merchant agreements. Now in reality, this means you do pay a fee for the use of a card, even when you don’t use one. The merchant just makes sure the costs of credit card fees (they can be substantial) are included in the price and you almost never pay an extra fee for using a card instead of cash.
Even though the Philippines passed a similar law last year, it doesn’t seem to be widely implemented. Although many businesses here don’t take cards, be prepared to be charged 5 to 15% if choose to use one at a business which accept. Complain to the Consumer Protection Agency about such a practice? Good luck, there isn’t one.
Returns: In the US it’s almost universal that if you buy something at a store and you decide you don’t like it after you take delivery, you can return it … often no questions asked. At the worst you might be asked to pay a 10 or 15% restocking fee, but you are almost never stuck with an item. Even a car, in most states, can be returned if it proves to be a lemon.
In the Philippines returns are almost unheard of. Make sure you want something before you hand over the cash, because it’s yours. Period. Larger stores, especially ones who are franchised by US firms, like Ace Hardware, may issue you a credit slip … but returning even an unused item for a refund? Nearly unheard of.
Signing up for Internet service? Easy … the installer might be out the same or next day. Don’t like the service? Too bad because you signed an agreement for 12 to 14 months of service and you have it, like it or not.
This is an issue a great many Westerners are going to have a problem with … it’s a near universal practice and it will be annoying and expensive to get used to … I’ve certainly paid my tuition.
Bank Issues: If you write a check on a US bank there will be no place to cash it here. Virtually impossible. If you deposit it in your own Philippine US dollar account it will clear … the money will move from your US account to the credit of the Philippine bank in a few days … less than a week usually. But almost universally the Philippine bank is going to hold that money for 40 more days before it becomes available. Period. Why? Because they can. They are the bank and you are the consumer and consumers, in general have no rights.
ATM no dispense: This is a big issue if you use your ATM card much. You insert the card, type in your PIN, request a withdrawal and the machine refuses to ‘give’. If you’re lucky it spits your card back at you, if it ‘eats’ your card you’re stuck with a visit to the bank to make a report. But even more annoying … the amount you tried to withdraw is likely gone from your account. Talk about an annoyance. After you report this to your bank, if you’re lucky, the missing money will be put pack in your account in 5 to 8 “banking days” … which may well turn out to be 10 or more calendar days.
Lesson one: Don’t depend on getting cash every time you try your card. Lesson two. Don’t try it more than once, each try may be another ‘no dispense’ withdrawal. Lesson three … keep cash on hand.
Things can go sour in a heartbeat and the bank will take its own sweet time in correcting things.
Phony Claims: This one would be laughable, if so many poor people who can ill afford the loss weren’t being duped, day after day. Want a drug that will make you as smart as Einstein in a week or two … you can buy it. Want to see “proof” that overpriced chicken bullion can make your brain work like a Rhodes Scholar? It’s on TV all the time. Think buying a specific brand of baby formula will get your child a scholarship in 20 years? Claims nearly this outlandish are made all the times on TV and in the newspapers.
Do you mean to tell me there are no laws against such blatant hucksterism? There are laws. And basically they say such claims must be disclaimed. You watch that ‘chicken bullion’ commercial long enough and you’ll see a tiny flash of black with some letters on it. You’ll never be able to read it on the TV screen, but the same disclaimer is on the company’s print ads … “No Therapeutic Claims”.
In other words, I said something, but I didn’t mean it because I weasel worded it at the end. It’s really a sad way of doing business and it hurts the image of the country almost as bad as it hurts the people who are duped into buying things being hawked by initiation doctors, dentists and such making ridiculous claims which are then ‘taken away’ by a barely readable disclaimer which negates the whole ad.
Anyway, the comment line is open, what else do you want to know about planning to live here in the Philippines?