Starting a New Life Abroad: Truths About the Life of an OFW

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Growing up in the Philippines, I’ve always dreamed of starting a new life abroad. I had a glimpse when I studied abroad in Australia. But, it was short & sweet and I went back to the Philippines after.

If you ask a Filipino where they want to move abroad, you’ll often hear Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. That was my dream too.

But, I got scammed while hoping to live and work in New Zealand. Luckily, in that same year, I got a job offer in Sweden (here’s how to migrate to Sweden from the Philippines)!

Starting a new life abroad is exciting, overwhelming, and challenging. A mix of everything especially when you don’t own a powerful passport. Filipinos abroad don’t have an easy life as other people think.

starting a new life abroad

Starting a new life abroad

A lot of people want to start a new life abroad and thought of moving abroad permanently. I lived and grew up in the Philippines, but I have always imagined starting a new life somewhere else.

Living in the Philippines is challenging. The pay is low, hustling is normal, you spend most of your time dealing with the traffic, and you are always one major hospital admission away from being depleted.

There are a lot of broken systems in the Philippines. So, if a Filipino wants to move abroad, I don’t blame them.

My main motivation for starting a new life abroad is I need a higher income to support my dad’s hospital bills & my sister’s education. My salary alone in the Philippines will never be enough.

Filipinos working abroad (OFWs) don’t always have a fun and easy life! Here are the truths about the life of an OFW.

Preparing to move abroad is costly and exhausting 

When you have a Philippine passport, your options of moving abroad are limited. The most common paths are either studying abroad or getting a job abroad.

My original plan was to study abroad in Australia, get a job after graduation, and stay there for good. Studying abroad can also be a good “test run” before moving to another country.

I didn’t have the option to study abroad again in my mid-20s, so the only choice I have is to get a job abroad. I tried applying for different jobs abroad, specifically in Australia and New Zealand. Luck wasn’t on my side!

Preparing to move abroad is costly and exhausting because you need to spend a lot of time and energy applying for a job that will sponsor your relocation. It’s costly because there are too many tests you need to do and documents to process.

As if those were not enough to make things hard, but we got POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) that will make things harder!

The POEA or the exit clearance is a hindrance and cause of delay for OFWs

I’ve never met an OFW or Overseas Filipino Worker who was happy with the process of getting an exit clearance in the Philippines.

It’s ridiculous how Filipinos who got a job abroad will get delayed because of this exit clearance.

Imagine this: you finally got a job abroad, your employer submitted all the necessary documents, your application was approved, and you were granted a work visa. The process was smooth. But, you will be delayed because of POEA.

Because for some reason, they needed to review your documents despite getting the work visa.

And, of course, you need to pay $100 to POEA for this.

Filipinos who got a work visa are required to get an OEC (overseas employment certificate) from POEA. It is an exit clearance, and you need to show this at the airport.

Obviously, I was unhappy with POEA because the process was a hassle & it was embarrassing to my employer.

It was 2018 when I processed my OEC, and it was not the best time! I was processing my OEC (direct hire application – skilled worker) from January to the end of April. To give you an idea:

  • I had to write a letter to the DOLE undersecretary to exempt me from the direct-hire ban & personally submit it to DOLE.
  • Wait for a month for the approval. 
  • Process phase 1 in POEA. This one took a month again.
  • Once done with phase 1, POEA will send a letter to the Embassy of the Philippines. That’s the only time when I can have my job contract authenticated. Another one month for that. 

This time it wasn’t that complicated anymore. Just be prepared when POEA will ask you to add clauses in your job contract such as food, transportation, housing, etc.

You need the repatriation clause too, but you can get the insurance that covers it.

The OEC will cost between PHP 5,000 to PHP 6,000. Don’t worry, after all these troubles, you get PHP 500 back at the airport! There might be benefits, but I’ve been abroad since 2018 and couldn’t take advantage of any of them.

I’ve seen many people worry about this. Some people’s visas are about to expire & they’re still processing their OECs. Some even have their employers rescind their job offer because the process takes too much time.

Do you think processing OEC is still necessary?

Income is not as big as you think

A lot of people want to start a new life abroad. It’s no doubt that when a Filipino works abroad, the pay is better than in the Philippines. But, people often forget about the cost of living.

Most Filipinos abroad send money to their families every month. I use Wise when sending money to the Philippines since it’s cheaper and faster than the traditional banks.

Sweden is one of the countries with the highest income tax in the world. If you want to move abroad from the Philippines to save money, Sweden may not be the best option for you!

Although, there are a lot of advantages when living in Sweden since almost everything is subsidized by the government.

Saving money can be challenging

Have you heard of the Sandwich Generation? Many Filipinos today have the responsibility of supporting their parents and their own children. The goal is to make every generation have a better life.

As a first-generation immigrant (my husband and I are planning to stay in Sweden for good and start a family here), there is pressure on supporting my family back home & preparing for our future while enjoying the present.

Saving money can be challenging to a lot of Filipinos abroad because we don’t get to keep our entire income.

In Sweden, I don’t have to save up for my hospitalization in case something happens to me because the maximum I will have to pay is 100 SEK per day.

Even though I live in Sweden, I still have family in the Philippines and I need to prepare for them medical emergencies too. So, that’s another buffer I need to have.

Going home is expensive not only because of the flight tickets 

I have not been home to the Philippines since I moved to Sweden in 2018. I had an impression that it will be expensive to travel home because of the financial expectations of family and friends.

I don’t have first-hand experience yet, but according to my friends who went home to the Philippines, they spend around PHP 100,000 every time. That’s because Filipinos who came from abroad are expected to pay every bill.

Of course, there are also expectations that you will bring home a lot of souvenirs!

Celebrating Christmas will never be the same abroad 

Part of starting a new life in a new country is accepting that celebrating Christmas will never be the same!

Christmas is the season where I feel homesick the most, and it’s always a struggle to deal with homesickness.

In the Philippines, Christmas starts in September. It’s normal to hear Christmas songs during that time. People are a lot happier & you’ll see houses covered in Christmas lights. Just find “Policarpio street” in Google Photos and you will see what I mean.

You need to experience Christmas in the Philippines to get the vibe of the place!

One of the Filipinos’ Christmas traditions is Simbang Gabi (Mass of the rooster) where Filipino Catholics go to mass between 3 to 5 AM from December 16 to December 24.

Then the 24th is the midnight feast called Noche Buena where the house is open for family and friends who want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

The traditions that you’re used to doing with your friends or family will change

Before moving abroad permanently, I already knew that the traditions I am used to doing with my friends or family will change. The distance will always be a challenge when living abroad and not everyone is a fan of communicating online.

These changes will be part of starting a new life abroad, and feeling left out sometimes is one of the not-so-ideal truths about the life of an OFW.

Craving Filipino food or snacks is expensive

My palate is already adjusted to the food here in Sweden. I used to love salty food but now I got used to bland (healthier) food.

But, sometimes I still crave Filipino food and snacks! There are a few Asian stores or Filipino stores here in Stockholm, but you need to prepare yourself since it’s a lot more expensive!

Example prices:

  • Pancit Canton – 9 SEK each (PHP 52)
  • Argentina corned beef (340g) – 59 SEK (PHP 338)
  • Piattos (85g) – 23 SEK (PHP 132) 
  • Roller Coaster chips (85g) – 22 SEK (PHP 126)
  • Crispy Fry breading mix (62g) – 14 SEK (PHP 80)

Asian stores in Sweden:

It’s okay to prioritise your needs over your family’s needs

You’re not selfish if you feel that you need to prioritize yourself first over your family’s needs. There’s only so much that you can do especially where you are just starting a new life abroad! You need to make a lot of adjustments.

I have seen a lot of Filipinos abroad sacrificing their entire life for their family & forgetting about their own happiness and needs.

I’m lucky that my family is understanding & my dad even told me it will take me 2 years to settle down in Sweden.

We are not “lucky”. We worked hard for it too. 

Most importantly, when Filipinos are starting a new life abroad, they are not only “lucky”. I often see that the initial reaction of people after finding out I am moving abroad is “wow, how lucky”. Or sometimes, “you got a foreign boyfriend?”.

We are not lucky. We prepared and worked hard for it too.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Starting a new life abroad for OFWs wasn’t easy. It’s difficult to be away from friends and family. There are a lot of milestones that we miss because we’re far from home. We cannot travel home as much as we want.

A lot of sacrifices has to be made!

Living in Sweden is definitely a lot better than living in the Philippines. But, there are still disadvantages of living abroad!

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