Finding a job in the Philippines as a foreigner

by The Longest Way Home ~ October 14th, 2009. Updated on March 4th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » How to live overseas.
Chilling out with a milkshake in El Nido

Chilling out with a milkshake in Palawan

Finding a job in a developing country

It’s not easy for Filipinos to find jobs in a developing country like Philippines, let alone as a foreigner. In Manila I met expats with diplomatic jobs, and big corporate jobs. I also met the cocky kids of these expats. Unfortunately I also met a few of these kids who were on vacation in Palawan. My ears are still burning.

The moral and ethical dilemma

After working in capacity building projects one learns what it means not to take a job from someone. In developing countries I don’t believe I can, nor should take nor have a job that a local can do. I would rather be paid to teach someone what I know, so they can than teach others; and then move on.

In this case Palawan. It’s a small island. There’s not much to do. And jobs are not plentiful. Many have suggested … why not open a business here? Well, lot’s of reason why not to. One, cash, or lack of it. Especially when it involves not owning anything. In the Philippines there are basically two ways to own a business. Marry a local, or start a co-op with 5 Filipinos. Then hand over all your cash, and …

No thanks. In Manila I met three foreigners who had lost everything. Including their wives trying to open a business. Strangely I don’t get a good vibe about having a business in the Philippines.

Also I only have a tourist visa. And to work in the Philippines with only a tourist visa is illegal. I am not interested in illigal work in the Philippines. I don’t need the hassle. I would really be off to a bad start if the Philippines really was home, and I was working illegally. But, desperate times may make this all change quite soon …

Expat’s and the non politically correct reality of life overseas

So said a friend from another country. In reality he is right, it’s just not often put that way.

A local expat suggested I do private TEFL work. I really wonder if anyone has sense sometimes. Filipino’s speak English, and it’s an official language. Then I found out about the underbelly TEFL work going on. Koreans. One can give private lessons to Koreans who come to the Philippine’s for cheap language lessons. A foreigner is worth even more. But …

You are again illegally working. So when said Korean (or any nationality) stops paying you, what can you do? Nothing. And if you do threaten them. The person you are tutoring can just say “Go away, I call immigration tell them you working”. What’s worse is you probably taught them how to say that!

NGO work exists. But again, its a connections thing. And for some reason, they don’t publicize themselves that much in the Philippines. The Philippines is separate from SEA in many respects. Work I believe is one of them. It’s a huge obstacle to overcome. Not just for me, but for Filipinos too.

Working for yourself in a developing country

Photography work is not too hard to come by. As is website development. In the Philippines reputation dictates a higher payout. So if one particular local photographer has a reputation, they charge a fortune even for the most basic of photo shoots. Likewise for website work. In fact for the latter it’s not unheard of for people to charge many $100’s for very simple things.  The local business has no clue, but pays anyway as they are baffled by tech talk in both photo work, and web work.

What’s more most of this “ego and rep for money” comes from local people. I’ve seen terrible portfolios come with huge price tags. And the business/person pays out based on the price tag – it must be good if it cost that much – Expats do the same thing, though a little more subtlety.

Personally I take the expose approach and am quite up front with the cost of things. What’s more, as mentioned earlier, I prefer to pass my skills on. But, there’s still a buy buy, for now now mentality in the Philippines.  People prefer to buy a service than learn a skill. At least from my experience in these sectors.

Maybe I need to knock the development mentality of my approach out of my head! And go with the flow?

The future for me and work

For the moment I will continue to ask questions, and gather info about earning/living on an island. But I’m for sure starting to side on Palawan not being one of the greatest places to find work. To invest a fortune, if you have it, and can take a loss just in case, yes it could well be a gold mine. I don’t have the capital, nor do I want that risk.

I also have a terrible feeling that in under 5 years it (El Nido) will become another Boracay and loose it’s charm.

To make the odd website, take some photographs of people, business and brochures. Sure. But it doesn’t exactly spell longevity.  At least not in El Nido. Then again, connections are needed no matter where you are in the world these days. So it might just not be Palawan, but; my way of thinking that needs to change in this regard …

Travel Tip:

Curious about money and earnings in the Philippines? Check out how much someone from The Philippines makes a day

Planning a trip to The Philippines? For all the details on what to do, places to visit, photos, costs, maps and accommodation check out my travel guide to The Philippines.

Coming soon:

Walking on water – the meaning of a good life

Liked this post?

Never miss a post!

Enter your email address:


7 Great responses to Finding a job in the Philippines as a foreigner

  1. Till says:

    Again your insight into living overseas is the best I’ve seen. Truth is, it’s not easy to find a job as a non national anywhere while keeping your principles.

  2. Malcom says:

    I know someone who lost nearly all in Thailand. Theres no way i would invest a cent in asia. Dont trust a person over there.

  3. Harley says:

    I am also looking for work in the Philippines. I am a Canadian Filipino with 15yrs of management experience in Sales, Marketing, Project Management and Call Centre Infrstructure Management. I still have yet to find any opportunities yet online. I am not trying to find a lucrative job but simply a company that is looking for international, experienced manager that can assist with company growth. Where can I find something similar to what I just wrote? Help!!!

  4. tabon_man says:

    This maybe an old thread,

    @malcom, saying not trusting asians, maybe a little too racist. Sorry dude. But come on, we can find good and bad peps everywhere. The good thing is should be always doing business thru legal means.

    Btw, encourage you to invest your skills in any third world, it will not be in vain.


  5. fergal feeney says:

    Your article, sadly, is true. I’m currently living and studying in the Philippines and confirm that your description couldn’t be more precise. Being European and a teenager, right now is a normal time for me to look for holiday or part time jobs like my friends back home. But due the expat separation from the rest of the “real Philippines” it’s almost impossible for me to find one! Either because the experience isn’t worth it (working in a shop), the pay is awful or the employers would refuse to have me due to my nationality being a possible liability in case of insurance etc. I’m on holiday at home right now and hoping to go on a real hunt for work when I get back to the Philippines.

    • Not easy for many foreigners no matter the age to get a job within the Philippines. Strangely it’s easier to get a job inside the Philippines by applying outside. Try one of the call centers as a linguist or the like!